Joseph Dennis and Matt Outlaw with some slab crappie caught in Lake Moultrie, spider-rigging 20 feet deep (Photo: Ron Wong)
Destination: Santee-Cooper Lakes
The two Santee Cooper lakes offer great crappie and great fun.
by Ron Wong
The Santee-Cooper area actually includes two different – Lake Marion (110,000 acres) and Lake Moultrie (60,000 acres). The two lakes are connected by a 7-mile diversion canal. Although the two lakes have somewhat different topography, crappie fishing is excellent throughout the year with late winter and spring being the best times to catch big fish. Lake Moultrie is 14 miles wide and is basically bowl-shaped with creeks and sloughs around it.
Lake Marion is wide on the lower end and tapers down to become a long lake with 315 miles of shoreline. For crappie tournaments during late winter and spring, it will take at least 14 to 16 pounds (7 fish) to win or even finish in the top 10. Abundant populations of both white and crappie live in the Santee-Cooper lakes.
For those fishing Lake Moultrie early in the year, slow-drifting double minnow rigs over the numerous brush piles 18 to 21 feet will produce plenty of fish. For those that like to “live scope”, brush piles up to 30 feet deep will produce some big fish using a 1/8 oz. or 1/4 oz. jigs rigged with a 1 3/4-inch chartreuse/white crappie tube or Crappie Magnet tipped with a small minnow.
As the water warms with more sunlight and longer days, the crappie will move to shallower water, therefore, seek shallower brush piles in 10 to 12 feet of water. Because of fairly clear water in Moultrie, lighter colored soft plastics will work best. As the spawning season approaches, the black crappie will move around the numerous cypress trees that line the banks around the lake. Vertical jigging becomes the most effective method to catch fish using 1/16th ounce jigs rigged with a Bobby Garland Slab Slay’R or Crappie Magnet tipped with a small minnow or a Slab Bite. The white crappie will move as the water warms to the trees and cover that are at least 5 feet deep as they spawn in deeper water on this lake. Again, vertical jigging is the preferred method to catch some good size fish.
Word of caution, wind is not your friend on Moultrie as it can get very rough. Local weather reports are good about advising small craft warnings. There are accessible boat ramps around Moultrie where you can launch and fish in reasonable conditions.
Crappie fishing Lake Marion is best from the I-95 bridge to the upper end where it is a very swampy part of the lake. Even in the winter moving into spring, crappie can be caught reasonably shallow, 6 to 8 feet deep. There are numerous sloughs, creeks and ditches throughout the lake that will hold crappie year-round. The area from Stumphole Landing upwards is favored by the locals to catch crappie that weigh from a pound to two pounds consistently.
Late winter in the larger sloughs on Marion, spider-rigging double minnow rigs 6 to 8 feet deep will catch you a limit easily, however, remember to move slowly. As the water warms on Marion, the crappie will move to the submerged creek and slough banks where vertical jigging is the best way to catch a bunch of fish. The crappie will be 3 to 5 feet deep around the numerous cypress trees or grass clumps. Using a Crappie Magnet or Bobby Garland Baby Shad will work well in these areas. Use a darker color bait if the water is stained.
Crappie in Lake Marion will spawn in a foot of water around grass clumps or cypress knees, if you can find both together, all the better. A huge positive for the fisherman, is the upper end of Marion is shallow filled with trees and stumps, therefore you won’t see any pleasure boaters or jet skis.
Santee-Cooper Lakes is truly a family destination for vacation, spring break or a weekend trip. The historic city of Charleston is only an hour away. Here you can find excellent restaurants featuring low-country cooking and some fine Carolina BBQ. Tours of antebellum homes, antique shops and rides in horse drawn carriages await the family. Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, is a national park is near Charleston.
A few minutes away from Charleston is the Atlantic Ocean with miles of beautiful sand beaches, restaurants and water sports for all to enjoy.
Columbia, SC which is the capital city is less than an hour from the lake. So many things for the family to do here including a wonderful zoo and mansion tours.
If you’re looking for a quiet “away for the crowds”, check out Bells Marina and Restaurant in Eutawville, SC. It offers an excellent restaurant, hotel with pool, gas station, playground, private launch ramp onto Lake Marion and fishing pier. The fine folks here can assist you with fishing guides and information about things to do in the area. This resort is close to the Diversion Canal that connects Marion and Moultrie.
The sight of hanging Spanish moss throughout Santee-Cooper Lakes just signals fertile crappie fishing grounds. Another plus for fishing Santee-Cooper – a non-resident can buy a 14-day fishing license for only $11. This part of South Carolina beckons you and the family for a memorable trip.